Teaching Children with Autism to Understand Idioms

Teaching Children with Autism to Understand IdiomsThose with autism are very literal thinker thinkers. While ordinary people seem to love using idioms, metaphors and figurative speech, whether to aid communication or simply to make life more interesting, for people with autism they simply make no sense.

Sometimes children with autism can take things very seriously and have trouble accepting that a phrase may say one thing yet mean something completely different.

One young man with high-functioning autism started to draw pictures to help him remember what different phrases meant. Before long he had filled a whole folder and people started asking for copies, that was how Michael Barton came to publish his book It’s Raining Cats and Dogs. He has found his own ways of negotiating idioms, “I have learned that if a sign seems bizarre, it probably doesn’t mean what it says, so I watch what other people do.”

Children with autism tend to be visual learners. That’s why the pictures of the idioms are very useful. They can recognize a silly picture of a kid trying to put their foot in their mouth. The picture looks silly. Then, they can see a picture of someone who looks like they’re sad because they may have just hurt someone’s feelings after saying the wrong thing.

This type of abstract learning can take a long time for children with autism so it’s important to start early and try not to get frustrated if it takes a while for them to “get it.”

Using drawings and social stories are a good way to convey the meanings of idioms but there are a range of other strategies you can try.  You can also make flash cards – one set can have the idioms written on them (To bite someone’s head off), and what they mean on the other (To be very angry with someone). Ask the child to match the idioms with what they mean.

You can have ‘True or False’ Quizzes where you state what an idiom really means (or a false account of what it means) and ask your child to say whether this is true or false.

If you had no idea of what these idioms meant, how do you think you might interpret them?

  • Get a grip
  • At the eleventh hour
  • Don’t get bent out of shape
  • My arm is killing me
  • At death’s door
  • On it’s last legs
  • If the shoe fits

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